CTO appointment process ends with a payout and a review of the need for such a post

The government had  little option but to kill off the process of  appointing a Chief Technology Officer.  It had not only blown away the  political career  of  Clare Curran   but  has severely damaged  the credibility  of the   government, not least the prime minister’s.

For National  it has been a  gift  which  keeps  on giving.  There’s  almost  certain to  be  some more unpleasant  revelations to come  from  the emails  between Curran and  the  PM’s  “friend”, Derek  Handley.  Though they may take some time  to emerge into  daylight, these will prolong what is a disgraceful  saga, one  which  has  few parallels  in the history  of state-sector  appointments.

Megan  Woods  drew the short  straw  to make the latest  announcement on the debacle,  which of  course was made on  Friday, just before the weekend.  This continues the  not-so-subtle technique  being played out in recent  weeks as the  government  tries to minimise in terms of publicity the damage it has been doing to itself.

Few would have  noted the irony  of  Woods  bemoaning a  couple  of  days ago   the  energy hardship of 103,000 households (and  doing nothing  about it)   but  apparently  enthusiastically  paying out  $100,000  to a  millionaire for   doing  no work at all  (plus  $7500  for  “set-up”  expenses— which  would  go a  fair  way to  cover   his  recent  overseas  holiday).

The  government,  would  you  believe,  is  now  “re-thinking” the  objectives of the  CTO  role.   Wasn’t  it  a  key feature of  its election policy?

Woods says:  “What’s clear is that we need to step back and have a good look at the role and see how it fits in with the other work being done in the digital transformation space”

 So  much for  the hopes of those   who for several  years  have  pointed  to the urgent need  of getting to  grips with  how  technology,  with all the implications of  artificial intelligence and  robots  changing the nature of work, will be  re-shaping the future.

Point of Order  – in an earlier post – cited  Juha Saarinen  in the NZ  Herald writing  about NZ  techies  having a meltdown that people  who don’t do technology—that is  know  how to code, set up and operate  computer systems and networks—are being considered  for the CTO  role.  (Does  he mean Derek Handley?)

He made the  point   the government needs  someone   who  can engage with the free and open  source software community,  and explain to the  government why breaking  encryption for surveillance is  very dangerous at a  technical level.

Saarinen points  to  2014  quote  by Xero  founder Rod Drury:

  “How does the government, without  deep  technology  expertise, engage in  sorting out  the vested  interests, and  overwhelming  information flow, in order to come up with a step-change plan to  transform  our place in the world?”

Woods says Derek Handley was offered the role and

“ … we are honouring the agreement we had with him. This decision in no way reflects on him as a candidate and the State Services Commission review shows that the process was suitably robust.

“Derek showed energy and passion for the development of a digital strategy for New Zealand.  However as the new Minister I have asked officials to review the CTO role and provide advice on the best ways to drive a forward-looking digital agenda for New Zealand.

“What we know is that the CTO role in its current form has significant overlaps with the Research, Science and Innovation portfolio and the Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media portfolio, as well as other roles like the Government Chief Digital Officer. We want to make sure that, whatever approach we take to achieve digital transformation in NZ, we get it right, and aligns with other work the Government is doing.”

National’s State Services spokesperson, Nick Smith, says the process around appointing a CTO has been a shambles from the beginning. It involved secret meetings and emails, the resignation of Minister Clare Curran and now  the government is paying Derek Handley around $100,000 for a job he never even started. He says:

“The Government must now come clean with the hidden emails from Clare Curran and the Prime Minister so we know the full story of how badly this was handled.  The CTO is the flagship of the Government’s IT policy and was budgeted to cost the taxpayer over $500,000 per year.

“Now if it still goes ahead we can add a pay out of over $100,000 because of the Government’s incompetence.  The Government should apologise to taxpayers for wasting their money and Mr Handley for wasting his time.

“He’s right to have criticised the process for lacking in transparency.  The CTO role has cost at least $100,000, a Minister her job and the Government its credibility. We can also add this to the Government’s ever growing list of reviews and working groups, currently more than 160 and costing $170 million.”



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